My Introduction to Virginia Minerals

by Susan Fisher, MSDC Member

Amethyst from Schaar's Farm, Buffalo Ridge, Amherst County, Virginia. 5.3 x 4.5 x 3.4 cm. S. Fisher specimen and photo.

My introduction to the minerals of Virginia came in the late summer of 1976. We lived in Ohio at the time so a trip to Virginia didn’t stretch our gasoline budget too far. Although my husband Ed doesn’t really like camping, we planned to pitch our little umbrella tent in the northern Blue Ridge Mountains and tour the area.

Initially all went as planned but on the second day it started to rain and rain and really rain and our cheap little tent leaked. All the camping gear got packed in the back of the pick-up and we headed south where the weather was forecast to be better. As a novice mineral collector, I was interested in seeing some fee collecting areas. Schaar’s Amethyst Farm in Amherst County seemed like a good candidate to visit and try our luck at finding big, beautiful purple amethyst. (Remember, at the time I was a novice collector and didn’t know just how difficult field collecting might be, but hope drives the collector.) The published directions to the site were clear and we found it easily. We parked in a neat, graveled parking area and paid our fees. The nice lady there pointed the way and mentioned that the collecting area had just been plowed and might be a little muddy so it would be better to dig in the lower hill side. Some photos of amethyst from the Schaar farm and location information may be found here  on (The photos on the website are not from my collection).

We followed the path from the parking area and came to a water drainage-way that was about twelve feet across and eight feet deep. There was a small stream flowing in the bottom. The gully was spanned by a “bridge” consisting of two utility poles lying side-by-side or one could scramble down the side and hop over the stream and climb the other bank. Since my sense of balance is non-existent, Ed walked across the poles and I scrambled down the gully and up the other side. When we crossed the gulch, things started to look less promising. In front of us was a vast expanse of sticky, slippery, slimy, wet red mud with pools of scummy looking standing water. Ed took one look and said “This is not a good idea.” I am not nearly that smart.

Since visions of purple quartz were still overwhelming the reasoning centers of my brain, I started edging around the edge of a small slope trying to stay above the field of slime. I found a likely looking place where a thin white seam snaked through the slippery red slope and started to dig. After about twenty minutes of moving mud, I pulled a hard object from the goo. It was a small partial quartz crystal with multiple parallel terminations on one side. It was a milky gray – not purple – but it was quartz. While disappointing, it also fueled the search reflex.

Where there is quartz, there may be amethyst. I started to dig with greater energy, but the extra effort caused me to start to slide downhill. I stopped my slide by getting down on my knees and leaning into the slope. I noted that my knees were slowly inching into the mud, but the thrill of the hunt overcame that minor annoyance. I imagined the stunning purple crystals that must be just a few inches deeper. I kept hearing a familiar voice in the background, but I was intent on moving mud.

Finally I realized my husband was speaking urgently to me – “There is a heavy rain storm on the mountain up-hill from us!!!”. I think my response was something like “I don’t think I will melt.” The rain engulfed us and I was dipping the water out of my hole with my hands. The rain came harder and I couldn’t keep up with the flooding in the hole. I was also sliding down the hill on my face. My husband finally set me on my feet by grabbing my collar. In a patient voice that only a long-suffering husband can use, he asked “Can we go now or do you want to spend the night in this mud hole? The only way out is across the gully and the water is rising.”

We slogged our way back to the utility pole “bridge.” The little stream at the bottom of the gulch had become a raging red torrent filled with branches, leaves and dirty white foam. It was also about six feet deep and rising fast. Hopping over it was out of the question so the only choice was the muddy, slippery, impossibly narrow “bridge.” Ed walked across it as if he was crossing a four-lane highway but I stood quivering. One slip and they would find my remains washed out to the Atlantic.

With a deep breath and a fervent prayer, I stepped out on the poles and took about four quick steps. Just when I thought I was doomed, my husband caught my hand and pulled me the last few feet. We got to the parking lot and I finally noticed that I was covered from head to toe with several inches of mud. The rain was washing a little off but I couldn’t get into the truck in that condition. My boots went into a box under the pick-up bed cover and I did quick clothing change behind the truck. I still had mud in my hair, ears, etc. Ed found a dry tarp and put it over the seat and I climbed in – a disappointed, failed quartz miner.

It took Ed some fast talking and presenting an American Express card to get us a room at a Holiday Inn, but three showers later I had removed enough mud to go with Ed to a fast-food restaurant. You would think that this experience would have caused me to find a different hobby, but it only inspired me to work harder. I learned to appreciate the effort that goes into collecting those beautiful minerals. Although I didn’t find any amethyst that rainy day, years later I was able to purchase a nice crystal group from an old collection (photo at top of article).

Every time I look at it, I remember the feel and smell of a field of Virginia mud in a rainstorm. The site would have been great fun to collect on a cool, autumn day, but not in a torrential rainstorm. Virginia minerals are wonderful and well worth the effort!

In the years since that rainy trip, I have added to my mineral collection including several Virginia minerals. In doing so I have used my favorite collecting tools – cash, checks, and credit cards and NO MUD!!!!!  Here is a small sampling of Virginia’s mineral wealth.

Apophyllite. Fairfax Quarry, Centreville, Culpeper Basin, Fairfax County, Virginia. Specimen 9 x 6x 3 cm., main crystal 5 x 4 x 0.8 cm. S. Fisher specimen and photo.
Stilbite. Fairfax Quarry, Centreville, Culpeper Basin, Fairfax County, Virginia. 5.5 x 2.5 x 3 cm with spheres to 1 cm across. S. Fisher specimen and photo.
Actinolite (var. Byssolite), Fairfax Quarry, Centreville, Culpeper Basin, Fairfax County, Virginia. 3 x 3 x 4 cm with fibrous crystals to 2 cm long. S. Fisher specimen and photo.
Sphalerite on prehnite, Luck Stone Quarry Leesburg Plant, Loudoun County, Virginia. 3 x 3.1 x 2.9 cm with the sphalerite crystal 0.8 x 0.5 x 0.2 cm. S. Fisher specimen and photo.
Turquoise. Bishop Mine, Lynch Station, Campbell County, Virginia. Micro crystals. S. Fisher specimen and photo.
Tantalite-(Mn). Rutherford mine, Amelia Court House, Amelia County, Virginia 1.7 x 1.5 x 3.3 cm, S. Fisher specimen and photo.
Golden Beryl, Wingo Mine, Amelia Court House, Amelia County, Virginia, 3.5 x 3.5 x 4.5 cm. S. Fisher specimen and photo.

These are only a few examples of Virginia minerals. Unfortunately many of the classic sites are no longer available, but good specimens become available as older collections reenter the mineral market. Watch for them and enjoy what this state has to offer.